Spinach Stew


I haven't cooked spinach since I met my wife few years ago. Although it was one of my favourite vegetables to eat as a child, Nada didn't like it so I didn't bothered cooking it. I never questioned what about spinach she didn't like. Then it all came clear. I had the misfortune of trying Sabzi!

Sabzi for those who don't know it is a Persian way of cooking spinach along with few other green herbs. The dish is also popular in Iraq especially in the south of the country. Sabzi was by far the worst thing I ever tasted in my life, and trust me I don't make such statement lightly. Everything was wrong about Sabzi. The combination of the herb, spices and the overpowering dried lime didn't work for me at all. Apologies to my Iranian and Iraqi readers who like the dish.

No wonder my wife didn't like spinach if this is the only version she tried. You can't taste the spinach among all these overpowering flavours.

Spinach is one of these delicate flavoured vegetable and to make the most of it you need to use with similarly gentle flavoured ingredients. Italians got it absolutely spot on using spinach with the equally delicate Ricotta cheese. Persians (Sabzi) and Indians (Sag Aloo) got it wrong in my book.

Last week I went on the mission of setting the record straight and introducing my wife to the way Syrians cook spinach.

I cook my spinach stew-style with braised lamb cubes but you can make an easier and much quicker version using minced meat. The latter is the more common version in Syria.


Here is my Spinach Stew with Braised Lamb recipe:

Lamb cubes 400g
Spinach 600g
One medium onion
Chopped green coriander
Garlic 2 cloves
Salt
Pepper 1/2 tsp
Allspice 1/2 tsp
Two pods of Cardamom (optional)
Two cloves (optional)
Olive oil

Start by browning the lamb cubes in olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot. Once brown on all sides roughly cut the onion and add to the pot. Season with salt, pepper, allspice cardamom and cloves. Cover with boiling water. Bring back to boil then turn the heat to medium and let the meat simmer until fully cooked and falling away with gentle pressure. It usually takes between one and two hours depending on the quality of the lamb and the size of the cubes.

Braising lamb and the using the resulting gravy is a very popular method in Syrian cooking. This is usually the base for most stew dishes. Chicken is usually prepared in a similar manner before the meat is taken of the bone and used in the different dishes. I like to add the cloves and cardamom to take the fatty edge of lamb meat and to add an "Arabic" flavour to my dishes. They serve a similar purpose of Bouquet Garni in French cooking.

Back to the spinach stew, remove the cardamom and cloves and some of the stock if you made a large amount. You will need almost 250mls of stock for that amount of spinach. Add more or less according to your taste and how you like your stew.

Add the spinach to the pot, cover and cook for five minutes. Add a handful of chopped coriander and crushed garlic. Cover and cook for another five minutes.

Serve with a wedge of lemon, nice crusty bread and vermicelli rice.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Syrian Foodie, I've eaten delicious Sabzi in homes and in Persian restaurants in London. Surely it was the way that particular Sabzi was cooked that you didn't like. Obviously this particular cook had gone overboard with the dried limes. It's like eating a badly made Irish stew - a dish with variations of method/ingredients - and saying you don't like Irish stew full stop. (Perhaps you don't!) You recipe looks delicious, but for my taste, one vital ingredient you omit is lemon. In my book this stew should have lemon juice added while cooking, or served as wedges on the side. Also, do you leave the spinach leaves whole or chop them? You don't say. I'd recommend serving this dish with rice and vemicelli cooked together.

Anonymous said...

Sounds delicious, although I'd agree and add some lemon.
I've never actually tried Sabzi, but it sounds as if it has the same effect on you as Mloukhia on me.... However I do like the Indian style spinach, as well as the Persian dish of spinach and yoghurt (I'm not sure what this is called, but I think it is a nice combination of the fresh, sour yogurth with the kinda earthy spinach).
Sarah

Anonymous said...

today i´ll make spinach with choped meat amd GROSS BERGHOL,
thank you for reminding me of spinach, some day i´ll try the sabzi

gregs
Brasil

Kano said...

@anonymous @Sarah

You are absolutely right about lemon. It is essential to serve lemon wedges on the side. I just forgot to write it. All fixed now.

I keep the spinach leaves whole if I am using baby ones other wise I will chop them really roughly.

Regarding Sabzi and Sag Aloo it is individual taste after all.

Kano said...

@Gregs
I never tried to spinach with Burghol. I should give that a go. Thanks for the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

I just adore mloukhia. Wish it was easier to find in London shops. I once bought a box of it dried from a Lebanese grocer, but the end result was full of tough stalks. I know some people can't bear the glutinous texture of mloukhia. Same with bamia too. Anyway, this spinach stew plus lemon must be one of the most healthy dishes going.

soreal said...

i think with mloukhia, the safest way is to get it frozen... its even better than fresh ones
dried mloukia never gives a good result... my mum only use it dried when cooking besarah , which i hardly like...
the Egyptian frozen mloukhia variety is available here in ireland, i guess this mean it will be available in the uk too :)

thanks for the recipe kano, will try soon.

Chow and Chatter said...

oh this looks so good

Sana Hurzuk said...

This looks good. Indians also prepare Spinach with Mutton (Palak Gosht) which has a few more spices than this. However the Spinach with potatoes that I (an Indian) make is very lightly flavoured with garlic and olive oil. You must try :)

Kano said...

@anonymous @soreal
I actually prefer dried molokhyah. If you buy a decent quality one and prepare it and cook it properly it will come out great. I cook the Syrian version, though, whole leaves. I suppose if you want to cook the Egyptian version (chopped, soup style) then frozen one will be better.

@Chew and Chatter
Long time no see!

@Sana Hurzuk
You should send me a recipe of your Sag Aloo or post on your website and I will try it.

Adnan said...

First of all, Egyptian moloukhiyyeh beats its Syrian version hands out (I'm Syrian by the way but I can admit that!) :)

Second, thanks for the great recipe. Can't wait to try it and eat it with my non-Arab wife (that LOVES our food).

Nansi said...

I make this regularly with ground beef and hummus, lots of lemon, sooo yummy, serve it with rice, it's delicious and healthy! My mom used to make it with lamb when we were little but I never liked it that way. Maybe I'll give it another shot, our tastes and preferences change as we get older, a dish that we thought was yucky when we were young might turn out to be the most delicious dish!

Kano said...

@Adnan
Wooooow, these are some big words you said :)
It is individual taste at the end of the day. I personally much much prefer our version.

@Nansi
I tried it with hummus before but I prefer it without. My mum only cooks spinach with mince meat, lamb or beef.
You are right about taste change as we grow older. Some of my favourite dishes now were absolutely disgusting when I was a child.

soreal said...

@ kano and adnan : the egyptian version is slightly dif than the one we do in palestine.... ours is even better :P

kano, i'd look forward to you posting the syrian recipe, with both dried and fresh leaves, if you haven't already.
would be rather interesting to try that :)

Anonymous said...

What cut of lamb did you use for this dish? I am not very experienced at cooking meat coming from a family of vegetarians! Also what is the best cut of meat to use for mince? Thanks

Kano said...

@so real
I posted a Syrian recipe already. Check it out:

http://syrianfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/05/dont-eat-your-greens.html

@anonymous
For this dish I used leg of lamb, but if you want something really nice and melt-away tender you can use neck fillet, really nice!

The best cut for mince is leg of lamb, slightlt tougher than shoulder but better taste and less fatty.

Travel Bug said...

Sauteed greens is called Sabzi in Urdu and Hindi too. The Saag is essentially a punjabi dish of mostly mustard greens but spinach is called saag too. Not a big fan of saag panner (home made cottage cheese). This dish does look delicious though, will try.

Kano said...

@Travel Bug

Welcome to my blog and sorry for the late reply.

Thank you for sharing the information. Let me know how it goes if you tried this dish.

aim said...

Wrong word!

Firstly, before I start I want to say that this recipe, along with everything else on this website, looks delicious.

But, what you're calling "sabzi," well, isn't simply called sabzi. That the word for greens (the plural being sabzijat), and what you probably had, if indeed it was spinach was someone's bad version of khoresh-e esfinaj, which is not really what you described, since it is made a spinach and meat based stew made with with dried prunes and eaten over basmati rice. The taste is delicate and, like many other Persian dishes, a combination of sweet and savory.

Sabzi is just the word for greens--the edible kind. If whoever made this for you told you you were eating sabzi, well, they're just being uncreative for a bad dish they made.

Kano said...

@aim

I knew this post is going to be controversial :)

Firstly, welcome to my blog. I am so glad you like it and I hope to see on the website again and again.

The version I tried is the Iraqi one. It is called sabzi in Iraq. Iraqis refer to the dish as an Iranian dish imported to Iraq rather than an authentic Iraqi one.

May be for the benfit of keeping the frindship between Syrian and Iranian nations I should go and try an authentic Iranian version then feed back on the blog.

sarah said...

I love spinach and also love sabzi. The (ghormeh)sabzi I tasted was made without spinach, just a large amount of herbs.
Cardamom is an interesting addition, is it traditional?

Leilee لیلی said...

I am a frequent visitor of your blog and I admire the recipes you post. However, I find your comment about the "sabzi" dish you had very offensive. For your information sabzi in Persian means herbs. it is not a way of cooking spinach, but a plural word used for describing herbs. With that said, there's no dish in Iran called "sabzi". What you had was probably made by some non-Iranian trying to cook an Iranian dish with no knowledge of the Iranian cuisine.

Ahluuul said...

This spinach recipe turns out wonderfully. I've made it several times and it's so easy - I use a pressure cooker to save time. Again I'm surprised by the simpleness that it is so tasty.

RE the 'sabzi' issue: I love the Iranian dish 'gormeh sabzi' with spinach, fenugreek, coriander, red beans etc (if it is cooked right, because I've had some bad ones which are not so delicious). However, my Syrian husband cannot stand it even if it is cooked well. I guess it's not to everyone's tastes.

Anonymous said...

in halab we serve fresh yoghurt with crushed garlic, laban mtawwam, on the side + rice.. i really want to try it with lamb cubes as my husband hates minced lamb. thank for the recipe :)

Kano said...

@anonymous
Welcome to my blog and apologies for the very late reply.

I love the idea of garlic yoghurt. I will try it next time.

Anonymous said...

I'm half Iraqi and I grew up on 'sabzi' spinach stew, and it's absolutely delicious. It all comes down to the cook. A good Iraqi cook (like my dad) will make good sabzi.

Kano said...

@Anonymous

I think I might have been harsh passing judgement after a single sampling of Sabzi. I need to revisit this dish maybe cooked by someone else.

Anonymous said...

@Kano

I'm certain you would like the Sabzi cooked in our house. By the way I love Syrian food - it's virtually the same as Iraqi food. I regard Syria and Iraq as parts of the same country, including Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan too. We all used to speak Aramaic.

One day our great country will rise again.

juliette karaman said...

I make this for my kids but with minced meat instead as they prefer it that way and add pine nuts

Kano said...

@Juliette

The classic way to cook it in Syria is using mince meat. I cook it both ways.

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